l WITH Dr Paul Bowen, a GP with McIlvride Medical Practice, Poynton, and executive chair of NHS Eastern Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). UPON reading a recent article about antidepressant prescribing in Macclesfield, I was reminded of a favourite saying: “Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost – for support, not illumination.”
As such, statistics can be used to portray whatever ‘truth’ we wish, but they often don’t tell the full story.
As a doctor, I’m naturally sceptical about such data without having an opportunity to review the evidence, apply context, and await intelligent, objective interpretation.
However, many of my GP colleagues will identify with the common scenario of a patient gripping a news cutting on the latest health scare or wonder drug, wanting to know more.
Data is different from evidence.
Data might suggest people who are admitted at the weekend are more likely to die in hospital, but without a much deeper dive into the reasons why and types of people admitted, and how and when they died, one cannot jump to the conclusion that hospitals are dangerous at weekends.
The same is true of antidepressant figures.
We shouldn’t rush to the interpretation that the recently reported ‘high prescribing’ figures of these medications for people in Macclesfield is a bad thing.
The data doesn’t say more people have depression, or even that more people are prescribed antidepressants, but simply that there were more prescriptions issued.
The data doesn’t tell us if 100 people were issued with one drug each, or 20 people were treated and their dose or medications were changed five times.
We use antidepressants to treat pain, menopause, migraines and many other conditions – and jumping to conclusions can be dangerous and unfair.
More importantly, what if the data does reflect more people locally are on antidepressants for depression – this could reflect a greater willingness for people to seek help, or for GPs to prescribe what is proven safe treatment?
Too many people go through life un-diagnosed, unable to see their GP, afraid of the stigma.
The statistics suggest this might not be the case locally, but I would need to see more data to make a balanced judgement.
What really matters are outcomes.
Do these people get better?
Do they go back to work or college?
Do they enjoy life again and was their experience of care positive?
This is the data I’d love to see.
To go beyond the data, and get information based on intelligence, it is important for us all to be sceptical, and dig deeper.
There is lots of clinically-sound health news available at nhs.uk/ news, which I would thoroughly recommend.
Dr Paul Bowen